Ruth wonders whether to pick up a baby bird lying in the roadside
Mummy! Come quick!” My daughter Mabel and her friend Alice came running up the stony track to our holiday home. “There’s a baby bird lying in the road. It must have fallen out of its nest. We’ve got to save it.”
My heart sank. A baby bird in the road? It would never survive – not here in our Breton hamlet where cats prowled the streets and buzzards patrolled the skies.
“Come on!” said Mabel, tugging my sleeve. “We’ve got to save it.”
I brushed her off. “Erm... listen girls, the thing is…” The nine-yearolds gazed up at me, eyes shining with expectation. I mumbled about the harsh realities of nature, that if the bird was injured it would die anyway and if it wasn’t injured it would fly away in its own good time. They were dismayed. “But it will get eaten by a cat or run over.”
Hmm, yes, fair point. “But if we touch it, its mother will probably reject it,” I responded, vaguely remembering reading words to that effect years earlier. The girls took no notice of my assessment. They dragged me down the path to the roadside where a little brown bird was indeed lying on its side, quivering and peeping, its eyes flickering in what I imagined was distress. There were no trees immediately nearby but there was a barn. Could it be a house martin chick? It looked more like a sparrow, not that I knew much about these things. I took out my phone and, as our Rural Riddles columnist Jeremy Hobson was not yet on speed dial, I looked for advice on the RSPB website. The charity said it wasn’t rare in the warmer months to see fledglings alone on the ground while their flight feathers completed their growth. Interfering could do more harm than good; it was best to leave them well alone unless they were exposed and in danger. Was our bird in danger? Well yes; it was lying in the road and appeared unable to flee or fly. Interestingly, the RSPB said it was a myth that a fledgling’s parents would reject it if it were handled by humans. Birds apparently have a poor sense of smell and are highly unlikely to abandon their young.
That was the decider for me. Wearing gardening gloves, I picked up the bird and placed it gently in a shoebox with some grass and twigs. Then we nestled the box into the top of a spiky bush just across the road, out of the way of cars and cats, but hopefully within sight and earshot of the bird’s mum and dad. Then, resisting temptation, we went back inside. Twenty minutes later the bird was still there but 40 minutes later it was gone. “Ha! I bet one of my cats got it,” laughed our neighbour Virginie when she saw us huddled around the box. But Mabel and Alice knew better. “We saved it,” they declared with glee. “We’re wildlife superheroes!”
Ruth Wood wonders whether to interfere with Mum Nature
The bird in the box – a baby sparrow?